Morocco politics security 21 06 13 (1)

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Morocco politics security 21 06 13 (1)

  1. 1. 21 June 2013 Morocco Politics & Security Summary Politics Continued media rumours about the King‟s health. Rumours of corruption regarding the management of US aid to Morocco. Lower House‟s Speaker criticised for bonuses. Salafists take over PRV political party. Moroccans support the PJD government‟s fight against corruption. Business and Economy King launches major new infrastructure projects in eastern Morocco. American company Eaton to set up in Morocco. Qatari investor withdraws bid for Maroc Télécom shares. Moroccan employers‟ federation reviews progress with the PJD government. Protests by sacked transport workers in Istiqlal Party leader‟s fief continue. Media and Society Festival of sacred music in Fès a great success. Member of the 20-Février opposition movement given a harsh sentence on trumped-up charges. Moroccans represent a significant proportion of migrants to OECD countries. Foreign Affairs More diplomatic flurries regarding opening of Algero-Moroccan land frontier.
  2. 2. Morocco Politics & Security 2 Analysis The King has returned from France, apparently in good health, to inaugurate a series of new projects, thus allaying public fears. Parti de l‟Istiqlal leader has been notable by his silence and Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has yet to mention publicly how he sees the future of the coalition. Summer is now with us – and this, together with the month-long Ramadan slow-down – should give the politicians some time to stand back and reflect on the pace and extent of reforms. Politics Continued media rumours regarding the King’s health. A lengthy private visit to France by the King set off further media speculation about the sovereign‟s health. Given the government crisis, with the Istiqlal Party‟s central committee giving the secretary general Hamid Chabat a mandate to pull out of the ruling coalition, the royal absence was worrying to some observers. By mid-June, however, the King was back in Morocco, inaugurating the new Maroc Télécom tower on 17 June in Rabat and infrastructure developments in the eastern Oujda region later in the week (see Business and Economics). Allegations of corruption regarding management of US aid Media reports suggest problems with the management of the funding provided by the USA‟s Millennium Challenge Corporation for programmes in Morocco. With the Agence pour le Progrès (APP), the government agency established to manage MCC projects about to be dissolved, the achievements as well as the malfunctions of the programme are being aired. The April 2013 sacking of director Morad Abid attracted considerable attention: rumours of financial malpractice were circulating. Washington had felt that there had been „inappropriate use of funds to pay the APP‟s management‟. As part of US public diplomacy, the MCC fund made nearly US$700 million worth of aid available for poverty-reduction projects. To date, US$513 million has been spent, two-thirds in support of small-scale fishing and arboriculture, essentially focused on the development of olive and almond growing. Morocco is eligible for further funding. Salafists take over political party. There has been much speculation about whether Morocco‟s extreme religious right-wing would be authorised to create a political party. In mid-June, some twenty Salafists, including the much publicised Abu Hafs (Abdelouahab Khalidi to give him his real name), joined the Parti Renaissance et Vertu (PRV). Abu Hafs is now a member of the party‟s secretariat while the other new members are on its national council. It will be interesting to see how the PRV and the much longer- established PJD will interact when it comes to election time. Given the PJD‟s reputation as the „party of good government run by honest men‟, it would seem unlikely that the PRV will represent a serious
  3. 3. Morocco Politics & Security 3 threat except perhaps in seats where a candidate like Abu Hafs has a strong local following. Elsewhere on the political scene, the Parti de l‟authenticité et de la modernité (PAM) is working hard to shed its image as „the Palace party‟. Led by the technocrat Mustapha Bakkoury, head of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), the party is emerging as a modernist, left-leaning formation which is winning a certain amount of support among the liberal-minded middle-classes. Among the party‟s leading figures is Khadija Rouissi who along with Fatiha Layadi has been vocal in promoting gender equality and criticising the hyper-conservative pronouncements of certain of Morocco‟s right-wing religious figures. One such sheikh, Ahmed Raïssouni, recently declared that kafala (a form of adoption) could not be granted to non-Muslims in Morocco for religious reasons – in a country where the orphanages are overflowing with abandoned children. Lower House speaker gives bonuses to close aides With the PI secretary-general down in the Western Saharan town of Dakhla to promote the party, it was over to the Speaker of the Lower House, Karim Ghellab, who is another leading PI figure, to spearhead criticism of the government. There was a major public argument with premier Abdelilah Benkirane during a conference on the right of access to information. To further poison the situation, the Arabic-language daily Assabah published an article on 18 June in which it revealed the large bonuses awarded by Ghellab to close aides. The timing was unfortunate for the Speaker given the current budgetary restrictions. Benkirane counters his critics in the opposition On 19 June the Upper House (Chamber des conseillers) held the monthly PM‟s question time. There was no boycott by the opposition, as had been the case earlier in the month in the Lower House due to the unfair allotting of speaking time. The main subject under debate was „government strategy in forestry management and regional planning‟, hardly one to bring in crowds of MPs and certainly not one which would allow the prime minister to display his talents as a public speaker. The government intends to reactivate the dormant National Council for Regional Planning. Nevertheless, Benkirane found ways to attack the ways in which certain land resources are monopolised, noting that social movements are springing up across Morocco to attack unfair privilege. He also reminded his audience of the King‟s intelligence in launching reforms in March 2011 barely two weeks after the emergence of the Mouvement du 20-Février. Benkirane also stressed that it was not his way to interfere with his ministers‟ work, preferring as he does to delegate. Given the large number of ministers from outside his party, the PJD, this could be taken as a way of demonstrating just how effective his management style is to that of those politicians calling for their party to withdraw from the coalition.
  4. 4. Morocco Politics & Security 4 Moroccans continue to trust the PJD A public opinion survey just published by the Arab Centre for Political Research and Studies (CAREP) sheds interesting light on Moroccans‟ opinion of their first Islamist-dominated government. While the opposition remains inflexible in its criticism of the government and part of the coalition is actually ready to throw in the towel and pull out of government, the Moroccan public actually seems quite well disposed to the Benkirane government. Although 91% of respondents felt that corruption continues to plague the civil service, 63% remain convinced that the government is determined to fight the problem; 57% said that they felt the government would manage to deal with corruption while 65% felt that the press is free in Morocco – a position which independent analysts would find untenable. Meanwhile 70% said that they had no worries about the Islamist government having a hidden agenda. While the results of such surveys are problematic in many ways, at the very least this particular set of results suggests that Moroccans are still ready to give the PJD the benefit of the doubt. This interpretation would seem to suggest that the Parti de l‟Istiqlal is out of synch with the dominant feeling about the country‟s leadership. Istiqlal leader Hamid Chabat could therefore suffer should early elections have to be called. Business and Economics Major new infrastructure works launched in eastern border The King was in the Province de l‟Oriental on 18 June to launch a series of major railway expansion and improvement projects, part of the joint contract-programme for 2010-2015 between the Moroccan State and the ONCF national rail company. Despite being the sole rail link between the relatively isolated north-eastern border region and the rest of the country, the Fès-to-Oujda line is currently operated with diesel locomotives. With major development projects on the coast – and notably at Nador which is the future Est-Med container port - it had become imperative to upgrade the rail network. Major growth in freight traffic is expected thanks to Est-Med and the new rail link between Nador and Taourirt on the Fès-to-Oujda line. The latter will get a new freight station and a revamped main station, the aim being to bring capacity up to 1.5 million passengers a year by 2020 as against just 800,000 at present. Oujda is also the object of an integrated urban development plan, the aim being to make the Moroccan city with the shortest flight times to Western Europe (excluding Spain and Portugal) an attractive and competitive option for potential investors and industrialists. Major US aeronautics company to set up in Morocco The minister of Industry, Trade and New Technologies, Abdelkader Aamara, announced that the American aeronautics giant Eaton is to set up shop in Morocco. A provisional agreement between Midparc
  5. 5. Morocco Politics & Security 5 and Eaton to this effect was signed at Le Bourget‟s fiftieth annual Salon international de l‟aéronautique. Eaton, a world leader in components and systems for the aviation industry will be creating a production unit in the Nouaceur (Casablanca) Free Zone. Already installed there are the Canadian manufacturer Bombardier and the French company Safran. With this latest agreement, Morocco‟s status as a leading site for the aviation industry on the African continent is further confirmed. Maroc Télécom deal: Qatari investor withdraws Following the withdrawal of the Qatari telecoms group Ooredoo (formerly QTel) on 14 June, it looks as though the Emirati operator Etisalat will be the future main shareholder in Maroc Télécom. Etisalat is now the sole candidate for the acquisition of Vivendi‟s 53% share in Morocco‟s major telecom company. Despite having mobilised US$12 billion to become a majority shareholder Ooredoo has decided to develop its international presence in other regions. It would seem that its offer, though lower than that made by Etisalat, contained more conditions. Etisalat will probably be taking on a profitable company despite the slowdown in profits of the last few years. Maroc Télécom is also active in sub-Saharan Africa, an area generally considered to have considerable growth potential. Employers’ federation evaluates president’s first year in office The Confédération générale des employeurs marocains (CGEM) held its AGM on Monday 17 June. At the 2012 assembly, the influential employers‟ organisation elected Miriem Bensalah- Chakroun (MBC) to lead it, the first time a woman had held the post and certainly not the easiest time to take on the three-year job, given the European economic crisis and the presence of a relatively inexperienced team in government. The main challenge for MBC‟s team was to develop a working relationship with the Benkirane government to tackle the effects of the crisis and work out new measures to support enterprise in a fairly morose business climate. The relationship between Morocco‟s entrepreneurs and government has, however, been up and down to say the least since June 2012. The CGEM heavily criticised the government‟s first budget, went ahead with bilateral negotiations with the trade unions over pay rises and working conditions, and, most recently, practically boycotted the visit by Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On a more positive note, under Bensalah-Chakroun, the CGEM has worked on vocational training, business social-responsibility and the question of payment schedules. It is hoped that during the second year of MBC‟s mandate a more harmonious working relationship will develop with the government. The question of bilateral free trade agreements is particularly worrying for major sections of Moroccan industry. There are calls for certain areas of these agreements to be renegotiated. The country‟s leading steel producer was bailed out earlier in the year; its profits had fallen through the floor as the Moroccan market has been flooded by cheap finished and semi-finished metal products imported in particular from Spain.
  6. 6. Morocco Politics & Security 6 CGEM members also feel that Morocco‟s taxation system is a serious obstacle to their competitiveness, as is the current legislation on public tenders. The CGEM is not the only organisation representing Morocco‟s business sector. There is also the UGEP, established in 1957 and traditionally close to the Parti de l‟Istiqlal, led by Moncef Kettani; the Confédération marocaine de TPE-PME, founded in 2011 to represent small and medium-sized business and headed by Abdellah Elfergui); and Amal Entreprises, created in 2004 and close to the ruling PJD (led by Taïeb Aisse). There is now growing rivalry between these organisations because, under the terms of the 2011 constitution, they will for the first time have elected representatives in the upper house of Parliament. Though Taïeb Aisse has denied any political affiliation, his organisation‟s proximity with the PJD was clear during Erdogan‟s recent visit. It was Amal Entreprises which was given responsibility for the commercial part of the Turkish delegation‟s programme. Continued protests by sacked transport workers in Fès The dispute between transport workers and bus-company management in Fès continues. On 15 June, the last day of the city‟s prestigious music festival (see below), workers fired from the bus company demonstrated on the Avenue Hassan II, blocking all traffic on the city‟s major thoroughfare. Riot police faced down demonstrators for over an hour, keeping them from moving through the centre. Protest of this kind are familiar in Morocco. In certain cases, the situation has turned nasty – see for example the protests in Taza in 2012. Happily, there has been no violence to date in Fès. Rumours of the city‟s mayor and Istiqlal politico Hamid Chabat benefiting financially from the public transport company‟s restructuring remain unconfirmed. Chabat‟s son Nawfel was recently declared innocent of drugs-related charges by a Fès court. For many of the city‟s inhabitants, the mayor is a suspect figure who has done nothing to clean up a municipal administration marred by corruption at multiple levels. Media and Society World festival of sacred music in Fès a great success The nineteenth session of the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music went off without a hitch (the city‟s mayor has nothing to do with the organisation, which is the purview of an independent non-profit- making association). For a week, the country‟s most historic and religiously most conservative city hosted concerts which saw crowds sway to gospel choirs from South Africa and North America and sing along to the political anthems of Nass el Ghiouane, a rootsy 1970s group enjoying a new surge of popularity.
  7. 7. Morocco Politics & Security 7 The concert by Syrian diva Assala Nasiri was sold out and even Patti Smith drew a respectable crowd. Current demands for the release of political prisoners were, however, kept off stage. During last year‟s event, the plight of popular rapper Lahaqqad, sentenced to a year‟s jail for a song criticising police brutality, was brought to festival goers‟ attention. Human rights: M-20 figure receives harsh prison sentence Although rapper Lahaqqad was recently released, the question of human rights abuses in Morocco has much preoccupied organisations like Amnesty International in recent weeks. One of the icons of the Mouvement du 20-Février, Oussama Lakhlifi, has just been sentenced to four years in jail for a supposed „attempt to have sexual relations with a minor‟ and „public drunkenness‟. Lakhlifi, who was one of the first to circulate the protest message of the M-20 on social media, was subsequently the object of criticism for joining the Parti de l‟authenticité et de la modernité (PAM) which was „created‟ by the Palace seven years ago as a counterweight to the growing political influence of the Islamists. Whatever the reasons which led Lakhlifi to commit this error of political appreciation, he was one of a handful of bold individuals who launched the spring 2011 protests in Morocco which led to the Palace initiating a reform process which has probably spared the country much strife. The general feeling expressed in the media is that he does not deserve such a harsh sentence based, in all likelihood, on trumped- up evidence. This is by no means the first time that a vocal opponent of the system has been locked away on unfair charges. Moroccans - significant minority among OECD migrant groups Migrant flows to OECD countries continue to grow. Morocco is one of the countries contributing migrants coming in at ninth place. In 2011, 110,000 Moroccans headed for OECD states which was 2.1% of the total entries. 2007 saw the number of Moroccans peak at 144,000 migrants. With 530,000 migrants to the OCED in 2011 China counts for 10% of the immigration into the zone. Foreign Affairs More flurries around opening border with Algeria Will the frontier between Morocco and Algeria – which has been closed for longer than any other border in the world - ever actually open? In late April the Algerian Interior Minister, Dahou Ould Kablia, declared that the question would be resolved in the near future. On 19 June, however, Algiers rejected the calls by Arab lawyers for the opening of the border in a 8 June demonstration that was held on the banks of the river separating the two countries near the Mediterranean town of Saïdia. The Union of Arab Lawyers is to constitute a commission which will send its reports on the situation to Algeria and Morocco as well as international organisations concerned with the question.
  8. 8. Morocco Politics & Security 8 The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Amar Belani responded, however, that the opening of the land border was a question of national sovereignty depending solely on the Algerian government and that “the conditions on which it depends are known to our neighbours”. He added that the conditions were clear and included “an end to campaigns denigrating Algeria, and sincere, efficient and productive cooperation against the daily aggressions suffered by the country due to drug-smuggling”. Morocco would also have to “respect the Algerian government‟s position concerning the Saharan question which we consider to be a question of decolonisation which must be settled in accordance with international legality in the framework of the United Nations”. It would seem that the Arab lawyers‟ initiative somewhat offended Algerian government sensitivities. Analysis The King has returned from France to inaugurate a further selection of projects developed by the country‟s technocrats, and rumours about his health seem to have been allayed by the images of him in the media. Political bush-fires continue but at a lower level of intensity than earlier in the year. The Parti de l‟Istiqlal‟s lead troublemaker, the populist Hamid Chabat, is currently too busy touring the country to do much damage in Rabat. In business life, the CGEM reviewed its performance a year into the mandate of its first woman president. Relations with the government have often been tense; communication is poor – partly because the latter would seem to be favouring a new employer organisation politically close to the PJD. And finally, the Salafists are getting themselves a political presence which will allow them to participate in elections through their take- over of the Parti Renaissance et Vertu. Morocco Politics & Security © 2013 All rights reserved
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